Training and Development: Critical Incident Interview Guide

Introduction and Purpose

Work is performed by employees. Sometimes the decisions and actions performed at work result in "critical incidents" which may be either a success or a failure. This interview technique is used to help identify the specific actions (behaviours), decisions, and information which led to the critical incident. Describe the purpose of the interview. "We want to learn more about how you make decisions in your job. Take as much time as needed to respond thoroughly and accurately."

Ask probing questions. Don't ask "Yes or No" questions.

Identify Incidents

Have the employee discuss difficult decisions that they have to make on their job. These are decisions that may have or would likely have resulted in the success or an error of some critical incident. It is important that they focus their discussion on the incident and what led to it. Try to avoid discussions about management or resources in general.


For each incident identified, describe the timeline of events that led to that incident. Describe the incident from start to finish. Re-construct the events to form a timeline that establishes the sequence of each event.

Ask for clarification and explanation and follow-up questions.

Identify Decision Points

Identify specific decision points on the timeline.

Decision Point Analysis

For each decision point, consider the following:
  1. Errors If an error occurred, what was it?
  2. Optimal How should the decision have been made?
  3. Ambiguous What information could have helped make the decision. Was any information missing?
  4. Error Avoidance Could the error have been avoided? If so, how?
  5. Environmental Factors What aspects of your environment influenced your decision?
  6. Expert / Novice Do (or would) experts and novices differ in their decision making?
  7. Information What information was used in making the decision? How was it obtained?
  8. Training Others If you were training new employees, what would you teach them about this kind of incident?
  • Information is gathered directly from the employees
  • Can follow-up on statements
  • Can interview multiple employees about the same incident for a more complete perspective
  • Has been used extensively since the mid 1900's
  • Subject to the interpretation of employees
  • Needs to be conducted shortly after a critical incident occurs
  • Memory about an incident may be biased or fallable
  • Some employees may be reluctant to talk about certain incidents

Sample Questionnaire

Critical Incident Interview Form

Interview Background Information
Name of Interviewer: Date:

Person being Interviewed
Name: Job Title: Job Class:

Use this outline to help guide the Critical Incident interview. Try to focus on the events, behaviors, and actions. Avoid assigning blame or introducing biased opinions. Focus on the facts.

Who, What, When, Where

What happened?

When and where did it happen?

What was happening when you did this?

What happened that was beneficial or positive in outcome?

What happened that was detrimental or had a bad outcome?

What led to this outcome?

What happened before this?

What circumstances existed that caused this?

What would you have done differently if you could do it over again?

What will you do differently in the future?

Actions of Individuals

What did you do that helped or was effective?

What did you do that did not help or was ineffective?

What was the outcome of these actions?

Why did this help or not help the incident to occur?

What did you observe being done by others?

Consequences of Actions

What was the outcome of these actions?

Why do you think the actions were effective or ineffective?

Why do you think the actions had a positive or negative outcome?